In May of this year, a SpaceX Dragon Crew capsule took two astronauts to the International Space Station.

Now, in another first, a capsule has delivered a crew of four astronauts to the ISS.

After a 27-hour orbital chase, the Crew-1 mission arrived at the space station Monday night (Nov. 16) with four Expedition 64 crewmembers — NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. Also on board was a small “Baby Yoda” plush, which serves as a “zero-g indicator” during the ride.

Their Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Sunday evening (Nov. 15) and docked with the station’s Harmony module 27 hours later, at 11 p.m. EST (0400 Nov. 17 GMT), kicking off a planned six-month stay at the orbiting laboratory.

“SpaceX, this is Resilience. Excellent job, right down the center,” Hopkins told mission control after the docking. “SpaceX and NASA, congratulations. This is a new era of operational flight to the International Space Station from the Florida coast.”

The event marks an important milestone in the private-public partnership in space exploration, which has been one of the many policy successes of President Donald Trump.

The goal was to fill the crew-carrying shoes of the agency’s space shuttle fleet, which was grounded in 2011, leaving Russian Soyuz spacecraft as the only ride to and from orbit available to astronauts.

In 2014, the Commercial Crew Program inked multibillion-dollar contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to finish work on their vehicles and fly at least six crewed missions to and from the station apiece. Crew-1 is the first of those contracted flights to lift off, and its crewmembers have now made it safely onto the orbiting lab.

“This mission was a dream,” NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said during a news conference early Tuesday morning (Nov. 17). “It was a dream of us to be able to one day … have crew transportation services to the International Space Station. And today that dream became a reality.”

“It’s the start of a new era,” Lueders added.

Here is a video of the docking for those of you who love space missions.

Interestingly, Baby Yoda joins a long a distinguished line of other “zero-g indicators“:

The toy, modeled after the character from the Disney+ Star Wars series “The Mandalorian,” is part of a long tradition of astronauts flying small dolls to signal when they enter orbit. The toys, which are generally tethered to a wall or other anchor, begin to float about the cabin when the launch phase of the flight ends, indicating that the crew is in zero-g.

The custom began on Russian spaceflights, dating back to the first launch of a human into space in 1961. Soviet-era cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin carried a small doll with him on his Vostok 1 mission to watch it float. Since then, the zero-g indicators have varied from homemade dolls to off-the-shelf, commercial toys.

SpaceX adopted the practice with its first test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, launching a plush doll of the planet Earth on its 2019 Demo-1 mission to the space station. The Celestial Buddies’ Earth was then joined by a sequined apatosaur, “Tremor,” which was chosen by the sons of Demo-2 crewmates Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The “Little Earth” and dinosaur toys returned home with the Demo-2 astronauts earlier this year.

It has been wonderful seeing so many successful developments in the US Space Program. I sure hope they continue, instead of devolving into social justice experiments.

 

 
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